Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Thomas Colbert, 1954-2015

I never had Tom Colbert as a studio instructor at the University of Houston College of Architecture, but I knew him well. He was on several of my design juries while I was a student, provided me with some ideas when I was working on my Master's thesis at UT, and eventually became a neighbor of mine when he moved into a house a couple of doors down from me and my ex-wife in the University Oaks neighborhood adjacent to campus.

Hardly an afternoon went by when he wasn't in his front yard playing fetch with his chocolate lab. He had purchased a vacant lot down the street and I was always interested in what kind of house he would eventually build there. Unfortunately, he never got around doing so:
Tom Colbert, a University of Houston professor who fought to protect Texas' coastline, died Friday after a battle with stomach cancer. He was 61.

Colbert grew up in New Orleans, and Hurricane Katrina affected him powerfully. As I wrote in 2013, "He knew what that drowned city had been, knew how much was lost when its levees broke. After Katrina, Colbert's elderly father took refuge in a facility that ran out of drinking water. Nurses resorted to using saline IV bags to keep survivors hydrated."

What, Colbert asked himself, would happen to Houston, his adopted city since 1985, if a similar storm hit? The scientific projections, he found, are terrifying: If a worst-case storm hit Houston, the economic damage and loss of life wouldn't just be as bad as Katrina. It would be much, much worse. If a hurricane storm surge rushed up the Houston Ship Channel, knocking over and busting open the enormous chemical tanks there, toxic goo would slosh all over the city, going wherever floodwater carried it. The result could easily be the worst environmental disaster the U.S. has ever seen.
Colbert, working with Rice University's SSPEED Center (it stands for Severe Storm Prediction, Education and Evacuation from Disasters), championed flood-protection infrastructure that wouldn't just fend off disaster. Done right, he argued, floodgates, levees and buffer zones could actually improve everyday quality of life — or even be tourist attractions. Levees, he noted, can be attractive public spaces, like the levee/park behind New Orleans' Cafe du Monde.
I had no idea that he was battling cancer, so coming across this article was a shock for me. He seemed to be doing well the last time I saw him, which was at a Houston Tomorrow event at H-GAC not too terribly long ago.

As we come upon the tenth anniversary of Katrina, we can only hope that Colbert's vision - storm infrastructure that enriches as well as protects - is realized before it's too late.

Colbert's full obituary is here. Like Bill Stern, Colbert was an immensely-talented UH College of Architecture instructor that cancer took from us too soon. He will be missed.

Dallas's freeway park is paying dividends

Klyde Warren Park is a $110 million deck park built over the trench of the Woodall Rodgers freeway on the north side of downtown Dallas. It opened three years ago and has become a popular local attraction. It is also generating economic benefits:
The biggest surprise, though, has been the velocity and magnitude of the park’s impact on commercial real estate. Since late 2012, triple-net lease rates at Trammell Crow Center in the Arts District have climbed from $19 per square foot to $25 per square foot—a 32 percent jump. Rents at 2100 Ross have gone from $13 to $19—a 46 percent increase. On the north side of the park, lease rates at 2000 McKinney have climbed 56 percent, from $25 to $37 per square foot. And rents at 2100 McKinney have appreciated an incredible 64 percent, from $22 to $36 per square foot.

“I don’t think anyone could have predicted the impact this 5-acre park would have,” says Phil Puckett, executive vice president of CBRE, who pulled the lease-rate data together. “Having worked in the downtown and Uptown markets for 25 years, I have never seen anything like it. Klyde Warren Park has become the epicenter.”

Its impact is especially impressive when the size of the park is considered. At 5.4 acres, Klyde Warren pales in comparison to Chicago’s Millennium Park (24.5 acres) or New York City’s massive Central Park (843 acres). “Dallas didn’t realize how much it needed this park,” says Randy Cooper, vice chairman of DTZ. “It replaced concrete with green space, created a better pedestrian environment, and achieved its goal of creating a bridge between Uptown and downtown. People making investments want to be as close to the park as possible.”
Building a park over a freeway trench is not cheap, but the benefits of replacing a noisy concrete canyon with an attractive green space are obvious. Not only do these types of parks bridge neighborhoods and improve an area's quality of life, but as Klyde Warren Park shows, they also provide tangible economic advantages.

Just something to keep in mind as we here in Houston consider the costs and benefits potential reconstruction - and capping - of I-45 in and around downtown.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Retroblogging

This blog didn't really begin in earnest until the late spring of 2006. However, I had been blogging for at least two years earlier, on my old, out-of-date website that I finally put out if its misery a couple of weeks ago.

There were some things I wrote on my first "blog" that I wanted to keep. For example, posts regarding Kirby's birth, posts about Hurricanes Rita and Katrina, the exploits of the Cougars and the Astros, my trip to Japan, my very first trip to Dubai.

So I went through all of them, decided which ones I wanted to keep, and moved them to this blog. I backdated them to the date I originally published them on my old website. I generally cut and pasted them as they were originally written, only lightly editing them. I didn't even strip out the hyperlinks in many of them, even though a lot of them are now unfortunately dead.

I note at the bottom of each post the date they were "retroblogged" (today, August 23, 2015) and in many cases add a sentence or two to update what I wrote.

Thus, every entry now on this blog from 2004, all but one entry from 2005, and one entry from 2006 are pa  There are 40 of them in total. They all that now appears on this blog is an import from my old website. They all carry the "retroblog" tag.

Some what I think are the more noteworthy of these "retroblogs" are as follows:

July 18, 2004: Local homeowners complain about development in spite of Houston's lack of zoning

August 21, 2004: Kirby's birth

October 12, 2004: Astros get past the Atlanta Braves to win their first-ever postseason series

November 16, 2004: 2004 Presidential Election thoughts (aka, they both sucked)

November 22. 2004: The Coogs conclude a disappointing season

December 27, 2004: Houston experiences a White Christmas

March 15, 2005: Disco lives! at the University of North Texas library

April 25, 2005: Political instability continues in Ecuador as another president is forced out of office

September 8, 2005: Pondering the future of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina

September 25, 2005: The disaster that was the Hurricane Rita evacuation

October 12, 2005: The "Kat-Rita Bowl:" Houston 35, Tulane 14 in Lafayette

October 20, 2005: The Astros are going to the World Series (and I'm going to Japan!)

December 7, 2005: College football teams that got Screwed and Shafted by bowl selection committees

December 10, 2005: Pictures and a review of my trip to Japan in October 2005

February 19, 2006: Pictures and a review of my trip to Dubai in January 2006

It was truly interesting to go back and read all of those old blog entries - many of which I hadn't looked at in years - to see how things were and what my life was like a decade ago.

There is still some material I saved from my old website that I might put on this blog in the future, but I probably won't be backdating them as I did with the above posts.

Happy 11th, Kirby

It was eleven years ago that Kirby came into our lives. Has it really been that long?!

His mother, my parents and myself treated him to dinner at Spanish Village (one of our favorite Mexican Restaurants) for his birthday.
No, smartasses, those aren't his margaritas!
Monday he begins fifth grade. Which means it's time to start looking at middle schools. And time to start preparing ourselves for the wonderful teenage years...

Monday, August 10, 2015

I really need to get out of the country more often

After I wrote about my goal of visiting the world's 25 smallest countries, I decided to make a tally of all the countries I've visited and when I visited them. For somebody who likes to travel, this list is remarkably sparse:

Antigua and Barbuda: 
2015
Austria: 
2002
Barbados:  
2015
Belize:  
2006
Canada:
1974, 1980, 1982
Czech Republic:
2002
Ecuador: 
1988, 1989, 1990, 1993, 2001
Germany: 
2002
Ireland:
1985
Japan: 
2005
Mexico: 
1979, 1983, 1986, 1987, 1989, 1995, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007

The Kingdom of the Netherlands:
The Netherlands
2002, 2006
Aruba
2014
 St. Maarten:  
2015
St. Kitts and Nevis:  
2015
St. Lucia:  
2015
United Arab Emirates: 
2006, 2008, 2012


The United Kingdom:
England:
1985
Scotland:
1985
 Wales:
1985


Airport stopovers (where I do not leave the terminal) do not count. Border crossings, airport stopovers where I do leave the terminal, and cruise ports of call do count, and are italicized. I broke out the United Kingdom and The Kingdom of the Netherlands into their constituent countries but I don't count them separately as they are not fully sovereign.

That's 16 out of 206 sovereign (or de-facto sovereign) nations, or 7.7% percent. That's pretty pathetic.

I need to redouble my efforts to see more of the world. Where shall I travel next?

(Flag source: World Flag Database)

Sunday, August 09, 2015

On (finally) killing my website

Earlier today, I did something that I had been meaning to do for years: kill my website.
I took the whole thing down. It no longer exists. See?
indotav.com: 2000 - 2015. May it rest in peace.
The screenshot above shows that indotav.com (I no longer own the rights to the url) was “last modified on September 4, 2007.” I kept the site, which I originally created in 2000, updated on a semi-regular basis until that point, when I ran into an issue regarding the pictures and content on Lori's "side" of the website. That problem never got resolved, and I lost interest in keeping the site updated.

Which means I let the site languish for almost eight years. I always meant to do something about it, such as completely revamp it or move it to a new webhost - hence the notice at the top of the page - but I never took any action. I just didn’t have the time, the motivation or (quite frankly) the skill to do so.

Furthermore, I was unsure about what to do with some of the material on that site. If I revamped it or took it down, then what, for example, should happen to my “old” blog entries, my entire thesis on The Aesthetic Condition of the Urban Freeway, my travelogues from Japan, Ecuador and Dubai, my advice for suburban homebuyers suffering from the “drawbridge mentality” that rings just as true today as it did fifteen years ago when I originally wrote it, or my explanation as to why rabbits make lousy pets (which still generates e-mail from bunny friend and foe alike, a decade after I originally uploaded it)?

Of course, the amount of dated or obsolete material on that website far outweighed the material I wanted to keep. The decade-old article on Ecuador’s experiment with dollarization, for example. Pictures from Houston and North Texas football games in the early 00s. Links to my old Daily Cougar columns that are no longer active. There were light rail and streetcar maps I originally drew in the 2002-04 as a favor to Robert Schwandl, whose urbanrail.net site once only contained heavy rail networks. Once Robert started carrying those systems on his page, however, there was no longer any reason for me to update them (my name is still on the Houston map on his site).

And then there were pictures of my wedding to Lori, which remained on that site over five years after our divorce was finalized.

In the end, I decided that the whole thing should come down. I let my registration to indotav.com lapse, found the old password to the Earthlink ftp site which held the pages, and finally pulled everything down this weekend with the exception of a terse "home page" redirecting people to this blog. In the end, I thought it would be best to let indotav.com die completely, and let my presence on the Interwebs be limited to this blog (even though this site, too, might someday come to a hiatus) and my Facebook page.

As far as the material I wanted to keep: some of it will be ported over here, as “retro” blog entries. My pictures of my trip to Japan as well as my first trip to Dubai, for example, as well as things I wrote during hurricanes Katrina and Rita (has it really been ten years?!), will soon go up here, backdated to when I originally wrote them. I’m debating about whether I want to do this with some other material – do I really want more hate mail about how rabbits make bad pets? – but that will be a decision for me to make as I port material to Blogspot over the coming months.

What to do about my thesis on urban highway aesthetics is a bit more troublesome. I could also port that to this blog, perhaps with each chapter being its own entry, but given that the document was originally written in 1999, it really needs to be updated, and the pictures are not of high quality as well. I think I am going to hold off on that for now; maybe I need to update it and republish it through professional channels.

So the website that I originally created back in 2000, using my very limited HTML skills, and which continually grew over the following half-dozen years, is no more. And I’m a little sad about it.

But I’m sadder that I didn’t kill it a long time ago.

My top ten Chemical Brothers songs

A few weeks ago, electronic "big beat" duo The Chemical Brothers released their newest album. The duo, composed of Englishmen Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons, has spent the last two decades layering breakbeats, samples, and synths into bombastic tunes that run the gamut from 80s old-school hip-hop to 60s acid rock. They are among my favorite bands.

Their latest album, Born in the Echoes, is meeting with fair-to-positive reviews. I myself think it's kind of hit-or-miss, although the sinewy distortion of "Reflexion" is classic Chemical Brothers and "Wide Open," a hypnotic, soulful collaboration with Beck, needs to be released as a single.

The Chemical Brothers marked their newest album's debut on their Facebook page by asking their fans what their top ten songs were. The post was prompted by a Stereogum article listing what that magazine felt were the duo's top ten tracks. It's not the only top ten list of Chemical Brothers tracks out there, either; EDM website The Untz has a top ten list, and watchmojo.com created a top ten video as well.

So, in the spirit of "if they can do it, why can't I?," and in honor of the Chemical Brothers' most recent release (as well as next week's 20th anniversary of the release of their first album, Exit Planet Dust), I decided to create a top ten list of my own. I therefore present the official Mean Green Cougar Red list of the top ten Chemical Brothers songs:

10. "Surface to Air" (Push the Button)
The final track off of 2005's Grammy-winning Push the Button is probably best known for the track "Galvanize," a 2000s nightclub standard featuring a memorable Middle Eastern string loop and lyrics by Q-Tip (which would probably compete with "Setting Sun" for #11 on this list). That being said, my favorite track on the album is the last one: an insistent, ambient jam that provides an excellent soundtrack for working out, driving across the country at night, or filming a Red Bull promotional video. It's mind-clearing mood enhancement in sonic form.



9. "Come With Us" (Come with Us)
Their fourth album, released in 2002, included the frenetic tribal beat of "It Began in Africa," the head-bobbing "Galaxy Bounce," and the shimmering, Bowie-influenced "Star Guitar." Those are all great songs, but my favorite is the opening and title track, which escalates, pulsates, swirls, and, as Allmusic notes, "detonates like a bomb blast." It sets the tone for what I believe is one of their stronger and more cohesive albums. I especially enjoy the bassy breakdown at the 3:30 mark.



8. "The Private Psychedelic Reel" (Dig Your Own Hole)
As the aforementioned Stereogum article explains:
Named for a legendary rumored recording the Beatles supposedly made for themselves to drop acid to, “The Private Psychedelic Reel” takes some recognizable elements of vintage psychedelia — a droning, chiming sitar chief amongst them — fuses it with a characteristically oversized drum loop, drops it in the middle of a Blade Runner flying car rush hour, and then gets Mercury Rev’s Jonathan Donahue to lace it with a clarinet freakout, of all things.
Indeed, one of their most unique and innovative songs.



7. Hey Boy Hey Girl (Surrender)
1999's Surrender was a bit more house-oriented than the previous two Chemical Brothers releases.  That's evident in this playful song, which features a driving disco beat, rave-y acid synths, and a sample from 1984 hip-hip standard "The Roof Is On Fire" by Rock Master Scott and the Dynamic Three. That's Ed and Tom getting out of the taxi at the end of this skeleton-centric video:



6. Escape Velocity (Further)
2010's Further achieves liftoff with its second track, which perhaps gets its name from a phrase in a Guardian review of their music from a few years before. To Stereogum, once more:
“Escape Velocity” pulls off more breathtaking force in twelve minutes than most on-wax dance acts are usually capable of outside the mass-moving expanse of a festival crowd. And it does so with a drive that fuses rise-and-fall dynamics with a sound lab’s worth of dance music history, decades of accumulated influence worked into contemporary motion.


5. "Where Do I Begin" (Dig Your Own Hole)
With a looped guitar sample and a morning-after lament by Beth Orton that layers upon itself, this song slowly and hypnotically builds, not finally releasing its tension into a cymbal-heavy breakbeat until over three minutes in. At the 4:45 mark, the song transforms once again, this time into what could best be described as an accelerating motorbike. It's kind of weird, but it's an appropriate conclusion to a song that is, for all intents and purposes, the soundtrack to a head-splitting Sunday morning hangover.



4. "Burst Generator" (We Are The Night)
In spite of winning Rowlands and Simons their second Grammy Award for Best Electronic/Dance Album, 2007's We Are The Night garnered mixed reviews from critics. While the album is somewhat scattershot - seriously, WTF was the deal with "The Salmon Dance?" - it nevertheless contains some solid tracks. "Burst Generator," as its name implies, features a series of build-and-release sonic bursts above a pulsing bassline and amidst a reverberating wall of sound. It was never released as a single nor is there an official video for it; there is this fan video which, albeit interesting, is clearly based off the official video for Star Guitar.



3. "Let Forever Be" (Surrender)
Rowlands and Simons have been heavily influenced by The Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows," and it is evident in this track. Noel Gallagher (of Oasis fame) provides psychedelic-textured lyrics over a furious drum loop and gurgling bass. This trippy Michel Gondry-directed video is one of the Chemical Brothers' most well-known videos.



2. "Life Is Sweet" (Exit Planet Dust)
This paean to a happy-go-lucky life features a throbbing, grinding bassline over an intense breakbeat  and breathy vocals provided by Tim Burgess of The Charlatans, all punctuated with a sampled shout of triumph. Allmusic describes the track as "somewhere between straight-ahead techno and alternative dance with just a bit of funk thrown in for good measure," and it sounds as fresh and ebullient today as it did when it was released twenty years ago. The song in the video omits the last couple of minutes of the album track, which transforms into something more spacey and ambient. 



1. Dissolve (Further)
At the same time psychedelic and symphonic, this track (never released as a single) is an homage to classic rock. The intro recalls The Who's "Baba O'Riley," the acid synth riff that dominates the song is a nod to the Beatles' "It's All too Much," the soaring counter-melodies are reminiscent of "Here Comes the Sun," and even the drums sound like something out of a sixties acid rock track. It all - shall I say "dissolves?" - into an oboe-paced interlude featuring trippy lyrics supplied by the Brothers themselves before dropping into a grande finale whose sonic intensity would blow your average hippie's LSD-fried mind. To shed any additional doubts of this tunes' 1960s provenance, take a look at the official video, which features British actress Romola Garai running the gauntlet of freaks and creeps and until she finds her man.

This is, without question, my favorite Chemical Brothers tune.



Tracks 11-20: "Galvanize" (Push the Button), "Setting Sun" (Dig Your Own Hole), "Out of Control" (Surrender), "Leave Home" (Exit Planet Dust), "It Began in Africa" (Come With Us), "Wide Open" (Born in the Echoes), "Block Rockin' Beats" (Dig Your Own Hole), "A Modern Midnight Conversation" (We Are The Night), "Star Guitar" (Come With Us), and "The Sunshine Underground" (Surrender).

Saturday, August 01, 2015

The world's smallest countries, and my life's goal

I've always been fascinated by microstates and city-states - sovereign nations that in some cases are only a few square miles in size.

I find them interesting for a variety of reasons. These little nations - many of which are smaller than inside-the-loop Houston, some which which contain only a few thousand residents - somehow manage to exist among the likes of China, India, the United States, Brazil, Russia.

Their histories, in many cases, are fascinating. A lot of European miscrostates, for example, are vestiges of feudalism. The co-princes of Andorra are the President of France and the Bishop of Urgell: an arrangement dating back to 1278. Liechtenstein is considered to be the only surviving remnant of the Holy Roman Empire. The Marshall Islands, Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia, on the other hand, are groups of Pacific islands the United States acquired after World War II which, although now independent, still rely on the United States to provide basic services such as postal delivery.

A lot of these small countries face significant hardships. I've already written about the heart-rending tragedy of Nauru, for example. Nauru's low-lying island brethren - Tuvalu, Kiribati, the Maldives - face grave threats from rising sea levels.

These are the 25 smallest countries in the world, by total area. The overwhelming majority of them are island nations:
  1. Vatican City (0.17 sq mi) - Europe (completely surrounded by Rome, Italy)
  2. Monaco (0.78 sq mi) - Europe (located along French Mediterranean coast)
  3. Nauru (8.1 sq mi) - Pacific Ocean (single island)
  4. Tuvalu (10.0 sq mi) - Pacific Ocean (multiple islands/atolls)
  5. San Marino (23.6 sq mi) - Europe (completely surrounded by Italy)
  6. Liechtenstein (61.8 sq mi) -  Europe (located between Switzerland and Austria in the Alps)
  7. Marshall Islands (69.9 sq mi) - Pacific Ocean (multiple islands/atolls)
  8. St. Kitts and Nevis (100.8 sq mi) - Eastern Caribbean (two islands) VISITED 6/2015
  9. Maldives (115.1 sq mi) - Indian Ocean (multiple islands/atolls)
  10. Malta (122.0 sq mi) - Mediterranean (archipelago located due south of Sicily, Italy)
  11. Grenada (132.8 sq mi) - Eastern Caribbean (archipelago)
  12. St. Vincent and the Grenadines (150.2 sq mi) - Eastern Caribbean (multiple islands)
  13. Barbados (169.5 sq mi) - Eastern Caribbean (single island) VISITED 6/2015
  14. Antigua and Barbuda (169.9 sq mi) - Eastern Caribbean (two islands) VISITED 6/2015
  15. Seychelles (174.5 sq mi) - Indian Ocean (archipelago off the east coast of Africa)
  16. Palau (177.2 sq mi) - Pacific Ocean (multiple islands and atolls)
  17. Andorra (180.7 sq mi) - Europe (located between France and Spain in the Pyrenees)
  18. St. Lucia (237.8 sq mi) - Eastern Caribbean (single island) VISITED 6/2015
  19. Federated States of Micronesia (271.0 sq mi) - Pacific Ocean (multiple islands and atolls)
  20. Singapore (276.4 sq mi) - Asia (archipelago located at southern tip of Malay Peninsula)
  21. Tonga (288.4 sq mi) - Pacific Ocean (multiple islands and atolls)
  22. Dominica (290.0 sq mi) - Eastern Caribbean (archipelago)
  23. Bahrain (295.4 sq mi) - Asia (archipelago off the northern coast of the Arabian Peninsula)
  24. Kiribati (313.1 sq mi) - Pacific Ocean (multiple islands/atolls)
  25. São Tomé and Príncipe (372.2 sq mi) - Africa (archipelago off the western coast of Africa)
The "top 25" is a good cutoff, because the next smallest country - Comoros - is almost twice as large as São Tomé's 372 square miles. For purposes of comparison, Harris County is 1,777 square miles in area. Inside-the-loop Houston, i.e. the area of the city encompassed by 610, accounts for approximately 96 square miles of land area.

The world's smallest countries also tend to be the world's least populous (for good reason; there's only so much land available for people to live upon). Of the 25 smallest countries by area listed above, only four - Bahrain, Singapore, Malta and the Maldives - are not also among the 25 smallest countries by population. Malta and the Maldives, in fact, fall right outside the smallest 25; Singapore, on the other hand, has a population of almost 5.5 million people, making it more populous than Norway, Ireland or New Zealand.

Anyway, my focus is on the smallest countries by area, not population, and I want to visit all 25 of the countries listed above before I die.

Yes, it's a rather esoteric goal. But it's really no different than those who endeavor to visit all 30 Major League baseball parks or all the National Parks of the United States within their lifetimes. And no, it's not my life's only goal; it's just something I'd like to accomplish.

Some of these tiny nations will be relatively easy for me to visit. Vatican City, home of St. Peter's Basilica and the Sistine Chapel, is a mandatory part of any tour of Rome. Monaco should be easy to visit if I ever tour the French Riviera. Andorra is a bus ride from Barcelona. Other places will be a bit more difficult to visit. Trips to The Maldives, Seychelles and Bahrain would probably require me to transfer through Dubai. In order to get to The Federated States of Micronesia, Palau or the Marshall Islands, I'd need to use United's "Island Hopper" service that operates between Guam and Honolulu. Getting to São Tomé and Príncipe,would require first flying to Portugal, Ghana or Angola. And in order to get to Nauru, I'd need to first fly to Fiji (which, believe or not, is not even in the smallest 40 countries) or Australia, and then take a plane to the imperiled phosphate island. Visiting some of these countries also requires applying for visas, and a couple of them might not be particularly safe to visit right now.

My quest to visit these countries began in earnest last month, when I visited St. Kitts (the smallest sovereign nation in the Western Hemisphere), Antigua and Barbuda, St. Lucia, and Barbados during a cruise of the eastern Caribbean. I was only at each of these places for a few hours apiece, while my ship was in port, but I went on tours of each of these countries, stood on their soil, took in their sights, met their people and ate their food, so I can say I've been there.

That's 4 out of 25 microstates, or 16%. It's a start. Can I get to the other 21 before I shove off this mortal coil? I'm going to try.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Direct flights from Houston to Johannesburg

No, it's not a new service, but rather a curious tidbit of Houston's commercial aviation history from three decades ago.

JNB-IAH First flight cover, December 1982. Source: The Timetablist
In December 1982, South African Airways began direct service between Johannesburg and Houston Intercontinental using long-haul Boeing 747SP aircraft. Even though the 747SP was the longest-range commercial airliner available at the time, the 9,000-mile distance between the two cities was such that the plane still had to make an intermediate refueling stop at Cape Verde's Sal Island Airport (as the July 1983 Official Airline Guide indicates; Sal Island was a stopover point for much of SAA's overseas services at the time due to the fact that the Apartheid government's flag carrier was not permitted to fly over most of the African continent).

It's unclear to me exactly what market this peculiar route was intended to serve, especially since Houston was nothing like the international air hub that it is today (in 1982, the only other trans-oceanic flights out of IAH were to London, Paris and Amsterdam) and Apartheid-era South Africa was not exactly a major travel destination. Was it intended to be an energy-related connection, even though South Africa was not a significant petroleum producer?

Needless to say, the presence of the racist government's airline in Houston was controversial, and local civil rights activists successfully lobbied mayor Kathy Whitmire and city council to revoke SAA's landing rights even before Congress passed the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986, which barred South African airlines from flying to the United States.

SAA did not resume the service after Apartheid ended and the ban on its flights was lifted. Scheduled air services from Houston to the African continent would not reappear until 2011, when United began nonstop flights to Lagos, Nigeria.

Flights from Houston to South Africa would make much more sense now than they did in the early 1980s, considering how much larger of an international travel hub Bush Intercontinental is today and given that United and South African Airways are both Star Alliance members. During a trade mission in January of 2014, mayor Annise Parker and city officials even discussed the matter with South African aviation officials. It's possible that flights from Houston to Johannesburg could someday again become a reality. The longer ranges of the Boeing 777 and 787 mean that interim stopovers in Cape Verde are no longer necessary.

A quick observation:

If you are a chron.com commenter, there is a 99.94% chance that you are a miserable, hateful, ignorant, bigoted, festering piece of shit.

I really need to stop reading the comments section.